Theresa Hassler of Harlem, New York, is driven by fashion and art, but her varied interests have led her to politics and a position working in the public sector. A Southeast Missouri State University alumna with a degree in art, she recently accepted a position with the mayor’s Office of Appointments in New York City.
“I actually started working on a political campaign right out of Southeast in 2002. I never thought that job would change my life. I still haven’t gotten a job based on my degree, but once an artist always an always an artist,” Theresa says.
As the portfolio manager, Theresa has a lot of responsibilities. She fills open seats on New York City’s many boards and commissions, ranging from criminal justice to building space for new housing. Her job includes finding, recruiting, vetting and getting candidates in front of the mayor for high-level, powerful appointments.
“I felt that this position would give me the opportunity to learn more about how the city’s government worked. Although I have lived in New York for almost four years, I hadn’t worked this close to city hall,” she says.
One of her favorite memories from her time in the mayor’s office was meeting David Axelrod.
“On my third day at work, a small group of mayoral staff had the opportunity to speak to and meet David Axelrod, the well-known advisor to (President) Barack Obama and (former U.S. Secretary of State and U.S. Sen.) Hillary Clinton. He is good friends with our current mayor, Bill deBlasio, and was happy to come to New York and meet with us,” Theresa says.
She says she loves New York and always wanted to live there, although initially she hoped to use her art degree to work in a museum or theater. Now, she says she may consider running for a political office someday, but also would not rule out pursuit of a career in filmmaking.
“New York is big and exciting. There is always something going on, day and night. The only downside is the cost of living and the gentrification that has occurred. So many people are being priced out and that takes away from the diversity in the population. But despite those changes, there is still a lot to see and do here – no place like it on earth,” she says.
She loves shopping and considers herself a fashion aficionado. When she isn’t shopping, she volunteers with the social justice ministry at her church.
She graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in art/design and a minor in Spanish from Southeast Missouri State University. She has a law degree from the Drake University Law School in Des Moines, Iowa.
A St. Louis native, Theresa says she knows the importance of taking advantage of opportunities offered, and she availed herself to many at Southeast.
“Appreciate Southeast,” Theresa says. “There are people there who care and will expose you to activities and experiences that will enhance your life. I had a lot of friends in college, but wasn’t afraid to break away from the crowd to do something totally different.
“Being a Presidential Ambassador, I had the chance to go to dinners at Wildwood and build relationships with faculty and staff. Sometimes those events conflicted with a party. The parties were fun, but learning and cultivating my relationships, while having the opportunity to contribute to the betterment of the University was much more exciting and useful, even after I graduated. I thank Dr. (Kenneth W.) Dobbins, Diane O. Sides, Professor Stephen Hoffman, Professor Pat Reagan, Trent Ball, and so many others for helping me grow beyond my limits,” Theresa says.
She says when she visited Southeast on a college tour, she felt like Southeast “chose her.” She loved the campus and had several friends from high school who decided to attend Southeast. In addition, she said she felt comfortable here and, after being admitted, also worked with the Office of Minority Student Programs. She had a position on campus in the Office of University Relations as well.
“Southeast really gave me every opportunity to succeed and be exposed to different activities. My work with University Relations was exciting and interesting. One week I would be assisting with press information, and the next I would be driving to St. Louis to pick up talent for the annual Family Weekend. Also, I credit Dr. Kenneth W. Dobbins and former President (Dale) Nitzschke, because they both believed in me and gave me opportunities to cultivate leadership and professional skills,” she says.
To Southeast students, she offers some advice.
“Don’t limit yourself and trust your gut. I started out as a business major with a minor in art history but I knew that despite the practicality of business, I had to study something that I loved and would motivate me to actually finish my degree. Despite the critics I majored in art because that was what I was interested in. As you can see, my degree didn’t limit me. I have a degree in something I still love and am working in an entirely different field,” Theresa says.